Waking up to the news each morning over these past few weeks have made the futuristic, dystopian novels and movies of my youth seem positively tame in comparison.
Personally, I’ve struggled with the tension of wanting to stay informed but also stay grounded.
I’ve struggled with knowing how, when, and where to spend my time, energy, and money to maximize impact.
And, because the pace of the last two weeks have felt like a sprint, I’ve sprinted.
And I’ve felt tired and disheartened and sometimes guilty for what I perceive as not doing enough.
I’ve struggled with remembering that the next four years will be a marathon and that I’ll have to pace myself and practice rigorous self-care and strategic, sustainable engagement if I want to see the race through (so to speak).
And because I’ve struggled with all of the above (and because I doubt I’m alone in this!), I’ve written today’s blog post as a reminder of the basics: the basics of self-care and the basics of what it may mean to sustainably remain engaged, sane, and resisting over the next four years.
This article isn’t a prescription for the best activism steps to take (though I’ll share some of the action steps I’ve personally decided to participate in laced throughout the article), rather, it’s a universal reminder that may feel helpful no matter where and how you are choosing to spend your energy and time these days.
So keep reading if you, like me, are looking for a reminder of ways to practice good self-care and how to sustainably engage over these next four years.
The ABC’s Of Self-Care & Sustainable Engagement Over The Next Four Years.
A is for awareness.
Awareness of what’s unfolding, yes, but more importantly, awareness of what your own personal needs, wants, and capacities are. For media consumption, for time devoted to political action steps, for the ability to even have a conversation about certain news items at the end of a long work day. Only you are the expert of your experience and it’s up to you to become aware of how much you can or want to show up given the context of your life. Pay attention and practice awareness of what your own capacities are in these times and be compassionate and gentle with yourself if this may look different than someone else’s.
B is for boundaries.
Boundaries are the invisible physical, psychological, and energetic fences of our lives. Being able to recognize where and what your own boundaries are is critical, I believe, to being able to practice good self-care. If you need a refresher on what boundaries look like, check out this article I wrote. Examples of boundaries when it comes to self-care and sustainable political engagement may look like: knowing how many minutes a day you’re willing/able to spend consuming the news; knowing who in your life you’re willing to have political conversation with; putting up boundaries when you cannot have conversations with a certain person; taking steps to take time apart from certain people in your life right now, etc.. Boundaries look different for all of us, so pay attention to what yours are, advocate for them when you need to, and be mindful and respectful of the boundaries others around you hold.
C is for conscious consumption.
In these days of unparalleled content creation and data explosion, it’s easy to feel quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume and variety of news stories assaulting us. That’s why practicing conscious consumption — how often and from what source you feel most comfortable consuming your news from — is another critical act of self-care. I’ve personally downsized my media consumption to twice a day and am sticking to two primary news sources: The Guardian’s morning email digest and Dan Rather’s new News and Guts Facebook page checked in the afternoon. This is what conscious consumption looks like for me and it may look different for you, so I invite you to consider which news sources you find most trustworthy and what times of day it feels right for you to consume this.
D is for discernment.
There is simply no end to the activism steps we could all be taking these days: Phone calls to our elected officials. Donations to women’s reproductive rights organizations. Making calls in swing districts to defeat Republican control in the midterm elections. Writing articles. Sharing articles. Marching. Protesting. Having hard conversations with loved ones. The list goes on and on. It’s up to each of us to discern how and what we’re most able to participate in given the constraints of our lives. Be discerning about what you can reasonably do and be gentle on yourself if this looks different than others.
E is for education.
Educate yourself about the enormity of skillful, brilliant resources, fellow activists, and equally enraged citizens out there who have gifts, talents, and advice for how you can best take action against President Trump, the GOP, and his ever-unfolding, destructive and marginalizing policies. Connecting with like-minded others can feel so incredibly empowering, energizing, and clarifying. (Women’s March, anyone?) Some of my favorites groups and resources that I’ve come across or been pointed to recently include: Daily Action. 10 Actions, 100 Days. Indivisible Guide. Robert Reich’s The First 100 Days Resistance Agenda. Wall of Us’s weekly acts of resistance. Call the Halls Guide.
F is for focus.
Once you’re clear what your capacity is, what you can realistically commit to, what fits the context and constraint of your life, once you’ve educated yourself on what resources are out there and that appeal to you, focus your energy on one or two key action steps to take repeatedly. Like with practicing personal habits, repeated, focused effort spent on one or two efforts may yield more results (and internal feelings of accomplishment!) than scattering your energy over more efforts. And just because you focus your efforts on some issues does not invalidate or delegitimize the importance of other issues other folks may be choosing to spend their time on. Remember, different strokes for different folks.
G is for grief.
Yes, sweetheart, you DO get to grieve this. You get to grieve the fact that Trump was elected. You get to grieve the fact that you’re waking up each day to a country you’re starting not to recognize anymore. You get to grieve the fact that the visceral and psychological sense of safety you felt with Obama at the helm and that you anticipated with Hillary Clinton as his successor is gone. You get to grieve that fact that it feels like all the social progress we’ve made in the last decade is being steadily, stealthily, persistently undone. Yes, sweetheart, you DO get to grieve all of this. If you find yourself in grief over any and all of this, please remember that you get to take ALL THE TIME you need to absorb the enormity of what’s happening these days. You simply cannot rush your own personal process around this and race forward towards acceptance. I would argue that that would actually undermine your self-care efforts. So please, honor your grief. Allow it. It makes so much sense that you would be grieving what’s happening in our country right now.
H is for help.
You get to ask for help and, quite frankly, you’ll probably NEED to ask for help. Repeatedly. Creatively. However and whenever this looks for you. I may be biased, but I think now would be a truly excellent time to get yourself a good therapist. Please don’t underestimate the cumulative toll that the stress in your personal life and now the anxiety in the collective ether might have on you. Go to therapy. Or seek out a trusted clergy member. Or spend time with your mentors. Basically, surround yourself with a skillful, competent team of supports that you can turn to when you feel overwhelmed, frightened, confused, or hopeless. Let others help you.
I is for intentionality.
Ask yourself who you want to be in these coming weeks, months, and years. Be intentional about what values you want to embody, what side of history you want to stand on, what morals you want to live by. You don’t have to take large political action to live with intentionality, integrity, and impact. You can be intentional about being kind on the subway on your commute to work. You can be intentional about being a good parent and raising kind sons and strong daughters. You can be intentional about being the best helping professional you can be. You may feel out of control of many elements of your life right now, but you still have control over how you live with intentionality.
J is for jokes.
Or, more appropriately, humor. But H was already taken. Look, I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand and laugh off reality — far from it! But sometimes unplugging, taking a break from the news, and vegging out with some SNL (thank goodness for you, Kate McKinnon!) or old Fawlty Towers episodes or my favorite, Parks and Recreation, is just the medicine we may need to lighten our stress, feed our soul, and ground back into the goodness in the world. Never underestimate the power of a good joke as a form of self-care.
K is for knowing.
Knowing the signs, symptoms, and supports of burnout. Of your particular brand of burnout. In graduate school, us young, budding therapists were taught some of the signs of burnout that might show up for us if we worked too hard and sought out too few supports. Some of these signs included increased irritability, withdrawal from friends and family, insomnia, constant worry, distractibility, etc.. They also taught us how to restore burnout once we caught ourselves there: seeking out supervision and peer consultation, taking time off, reducing our caseload (if possible), prioritizing our personal lives and hobbies, etc.. Burnout and the recipe for overcoming burnout isn’t one-size-fits-all so I would encourage you to know what your own particular brand of burnout is and what helps you restore yourself so that if you catch yourself in this place over the next four years, you’ll know what you need to do in order to best support yourself.
L is for “Look for the helpers.”
Do you remember this old Mr. Roger’s quote? “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” When you start to feel overwhelmed, disheartened, hopeless and scared in these coming weeks and months, look for the helpers. Look around for how many competent, dedicated, incredible civil servants, citizen activists, social-change organizations, and grassroots movements are speaking up and standing up to the scary, challenging things in our world. (Personally, I say a silent thank you every day to Senator Elizabeth Warren for her relentless moxie, motivation, and integrity.) Take Mr. Roger’s advice and look around for the helpers in these scary, troubling times. I promise that you aren’t alone.
M is for manipulation.
Manipulation and gaslighting. Gaslighting is a pop-culture term that effectively means psychologically manipulating someone (or many someones) into questioning their own sanity. Alternative facts, gag orders, outright lies, invalidating others’ opinions are all forms of gaslighting. Know what gaslighting is, how it shows up, refuse to collude with it and connect with those who also share your experience. When we can come together and validate each other’s experience, we resist the subtle and progressive march towards gaslighting and manipulation that consciously or unconsciously may be underway by those in power these days.
N is for nurturing.
Serious nurturing and self-care. Look, self-care looks different for all of us. And while some versions of self-care may work really well sometimes, tough times often call for increased or evolving self-care techniques. I invite you to read through my article of 101 Self-Care Suggestions and my other article on developing an emotional first aid kit. Use these articles as a jump-start to cultivate and create your own toolbox of seriously nurturing activities and self-care resources to employ over the coming weeks, months, and years.
O is for outrage.
In my training as a therapist, I was taught that anger is a sign we have a need that’s not being met or a sign that a boundary of ours is being crossed. Anger and outrage are perfectly normal and natural responses to what is happening in our country right now! I invite you to remain outraged, to not allow the persistent and overwhelming onslaught of executive orders, bills, and farcical news conference to begin to normalize for you. Stay outraged. Remind yourself that this is NOT normal. That your needs and boundaries as a citizen are being crossed. Staying outraged is actually healthy in the face of bullying behavior. Remember that.
P is for pacing.
Pacing yourself in all that you do in these coming weeks, months, and years ahead. As I mentioned in the intro to this article, change is coming at us fast and furious at a sprint-like pace and while we may be tempted to scramble to keep up (in media consumption, in political activism, in engaging in Facebook comment arguments), you simply must remember that it’s unsustainable to run a marathon at a sprint pace. And make no mistake: we’re in a marathon. So slow down, reflect on what pacing yourself may mean for you, and adjust accordingly. Remember that you’re not going to be of much help to anyone or any cause if you sideline yourself with severe burnout, so keep yourself well so you can keep on keeping on.
Q is for quality.
Quality, not necessarily quantity in all things. The food we eat, the relationships we keep around us, the journalism sources we consume, the targeted and focused actions we take. Remember that a big act of self-care in your personal life and in your political activism may mean seeking out fewer but higher quality resources and opportunities versus scattering your time and energy in a myriad of different directions.
R is for remembering.
Remember and remind yourself that what our President is doing and how he is doing it is NOT NORMAL. Pathological lying is not normal. The objectification of women is not normal. Mocking the disabled, the religion or culturally or sexually-identified other is not normal. It is psychological abuse. It is sexual abuse. It is xenophobia. It is homophobia. Remember and remind yourself and others to call it by its real name. This is not “boys will be boys” or “locker room talk,” A spade is a spade. If you need to remember and remind yourself over and over about what these terms actually mean, do it. Because becoming acclimated to what the President is modeling is dangerous because his behavior is NOT NORMAL. Remind yourself and others about this as often as you need to because collectively becoming acclimated to the President and what he is modeling will have grave consequences.
S is for secondary trauma.
Secondary trauma (sometimes known as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma) is well known to therapists, doctors, international aid workers, nurses, social workers, and generally anyone else who works in a service capacity tending to those who are physically or psychologically in pain. Secondary trauma refers to the presence of stress or trauma symptoms caused by indirect exposure to traumatic material. You can read more about secondary trauma here and I believe it would behoove all of us to familiarize ourselves with the signs and symptoms of this since we are all exposed to indirect traumatic content daily now. Whether it’s reading news stories online, watching the nightly news, seeing pictures of Syrian bombings, school shootings, or even watching Game of Thrones, we are all being exposed repeatedly to indirect, traumatic material. Because of this, we need to be vigilant about how this may be impacting us individually and conscious about what we may need to do to remedy this.
T is for trust.
As a dear friend and mentor of mine is fond of saying, “trust the process.” What does this mean? As much as possible, return to the present and challenge your scary future-oriented thoughts. While it’s normal and natural for our minds to race ahead and create an imaginary scary future, the reality is that none of us has a crystal ball. We simply don’t know what the coming weeks, months, and years will hold. So as much as possible, try to combat your anxious thoughts by coming back to the present, grounding yourself in the safety of your present reality, and continue taking very good care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Regardless of what the future holds, anxiety can consume a lot of physical energy and all of us will need as much energy as possible to address any actual realities or threats that may arrive down the road. So take care of yourself as best you can now. Trust the process and take very good care of yourself.
U is for unplugging.
Unplug, unfollow, unfriend. Whatever you need to do, remember that there is no shame in simply stepping aside for a little while and unplugging from news consumption, political activism, etc.. You get to take a break, however and whatever this looks like for you. Maybe it means a social media detox. Maybe it means going news-free for a week. Maybe it means banning political conversations at the dinner table. Maybe it means deleting updates from your phone. You get to unplug if that’s going to serve your self-care.
V is for vocal.
Remain vocal. Speak out. Loudly. Often. With passion. With integrity. Use your voice, your words, the letters you type onto the screen, the strokes of your pen on paper. Use your voice and remain vocal about the issues you care about – equality, tolerance, temperance, kindness, empathy. Don’t forget those famous words of the English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” You may feel powerless in the face of the current administration but remember and recognize that your voice is your power. Let it be heard. By your elected officials, your friends and family, the readers of your blog, the followers of your Twitter account. You never know who or how you will touch someone with your words, so please remain vocal. For all our sakes.
W is for wellness.
Overall life wellness. I’d be remiss in writing a self-care article if I didn’t include a reminder to spend time and energy focusing on the overall wellness of your life. As tempting as it may be to throw all your efforts and energy into activism (or fill in the blank), if this means that your finances are suffering, your relationships are brittle, and your physical health is deteriorating, you simply won’t be able to sustainably participate if you don’t tend to the overall wellness of your life, too. You will be a more effective engaged citizen in the long run if the foundations of your life are stable.
X is for xenophobia.
In other words, the fear of which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It is a divisive tactic rooted in fear exercised with damaging consequences. Don’t give into it. Practice the opposite of it: Connection. Trust. Openness. Curiosity. Love. Reflect on how you would like to model these values in your own life and stand against xenophobia. Your actions don’t have to be large. Never underestimate the grace and power that smiling at a stranger can have.
Y is for yoga.
Or the gym. Or dance. Or rock climbing. Or anything physical. As my somatic psychotherapist colleagues would say, “the issues are in the tissues.” As we move through stressful times, it’s a critical act of self-care to actually move, to engage in regular, moderate physical activity to help metabolize the stress hormones our bodies may be holding onto. I would never encourage exercise to change physical appearance, but I will recommend it all day long as a seriously powerful mental health support. So get moving in ways that feel good to you and know that it’s a huge act of self-care that will make your sustainable participation over the next few years more likely.
Z is for zoning out.
Zoning out, à la unplugging, à la serious self-care, à la jokes and humor, à la pacing, the reality is that very few of us can be “on” all the time, engaged with the world, the media, the pain that’s pervasive to our reality right now. There are times when it just may all feel like too much. So please, if you need to, consider this article a special, digital permission slip to step away and simply zone out for the night (or the weekend, etc.). Cozy up with Netflix, order in, take a handful of Buzzfeed quizzes, nibble on some brain candy, and simply zone out. You’ll return to your life and to your engagement with the political scene much more refreshed.
Wrapping This Up.
I know you may feel scared and angry and shocked and sad right now. And all of your feelings are OKAY and they make sense!
You get to feel all of your feelings about what’s unfolding in our world right now.
These are highly unknown, anxiety-provoking times unlike anything I’ve certainly experienced in my 34 years.
And because of this, because we’re living through such intense, chaotic days, it’s more critical than ever to take very good care of ourselves so we can sustainably remain engaged and working towards building the individual lives and collective world we want to live in.
And until next time, take very good care of yourself.
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